Fordham University conferred an honorary doctoral degree on Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, in a May 28 ceremony on the Lincoln Center campus.
As the leader of the Vatican’s educational authority over Catholic seminaries, universities and schools, Cardinal Grocholewski’s leadership comes at a time when the church is facing large numbers of school closings and dwindling numbers of teachers consecrated within the church.
“These are heady times for the church in America,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. “In an age in which the church is wrestling with the unsettling question of whether the schools are worthy of the investments in personnel and resources necessary to keep their doors open, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted the educators and bishops in Washington to whom he spoke to rededicate themselves to maintaining the schools at great cost.”
“We are happy to recognize [Cardinal Grocholewski] for the extraordinary work that you have done to . . . ensure that Catholic education has a new spring in what has been called the ‘age of the laity,'” Father McShane said.
Under the cardinal’s leadership, the Congregation for Catholic Education released “Educating Together in Catholic Schools: a Shared Mission between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful” in 2007. The document outlined the global and cultural challenges facing Catholic education and suggested a “deeper communion” can be developed with the help of the laity.
In accepting the degree, the Cardinal stressed parents’ rights and duties to obtain a Catholic education for their children under the Church Code of Canon Law, and the church’s responsibility to make certain it makes schools available. He also noted the importance of the Catholic schools within the United States, and the need for subsidies.
“The Code speaks for the need of a civil society to recognize true freedom of choosing a school with distributive justice and support,” the cardinal said. “I can’t speak of true freedom in choosing a school if that choice is connected to a financial burden.”
The event was followed by a gala dinner in the cardinal’s honor at the Rainbow Room, where he received the Catholic School Leadership Award for 2008.
The guest speaker of the evening, Bishop Robert Joseph McManus, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, detailed the challenges facing Catholic educators.
“We must be attentive to assuring that the Catholic intellectual tradition and its moral and social teachings affect curricula and campus activities,” he said. “They must also address realistically the precipitous decline of priests, religious brothers and sisters whose congregations founded some of those institutions and how that ecclesial reality influences what it means to be an authentically Catholic college or university.”
Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York, made a brief appearance to congratulate Cardinal Grocholewski, who he said he had known since the days when both of them had full heads of black hair.
Cardinal Egan noted that since he was leaving early to attend a dinner at the New York City Public Library, he was not technically leaving the education community. “Although I realize that by leaving Fordham, I’m leaving the real education community,” he joked.